WASHINGTON —In a quick turn of events, Egypt has decided to delay on Thursday a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.
While there is still a chance that the UN Security Council could vote on a similar resolution within the coming days or weeks, Egypt has reportedly indicated that it would not reintroduce the resolution before President Barack Obama leaves office on January 20, 2017.
Obama had been planning on abstaining, thereby allowing the resolution to pass, according to NBC News. Congressional leaders have intensified the pressure on Obama to veto the Egyptian-led proposal. These stunts at the UN serve only one purpose—to defame and delegitimize the democratic State of Israel,” Speaker Ryan emphasized. Even within Obama’s own party, the President faced resistance. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer emphasized, “Any workable and long-lasting solution to this conflict must come about through direct, bilateral negotiations, and this resolution undermines that effort.”
The Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations also issued a statement welcoming the vote’s postponement and urging the resolution’s withdrawal. Interestingly, J-Street did not issue a public statement on the resolution and kept its focus on the campaign to oppose David Friedman’s nomination of Ambassador to Israel.
Trump’s firm stance against the UN draft may have played a significant role in influencing Cairo to defer the resolution. “Remember you have all of these allies and adversaries out there trying to figure out what is Trump going to do when he actually becomes President,” explained Aaron David Miller, former veteran State Department advisor on the Middle East, to Jewish Insider. “I am not sure (Egyptian President) Sisi wants to put himself in a position as one of the opening acts of the administration to be on the wrong side of Mr. Trump on this issue.”
Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research, at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, credited “the deepening strategic ties between Egypt and Israel” in an interview with Jewish Insider. Citing the countries’ joint interests in the fight against Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, “Sisi was probably reluctant to scuttle those ties,” he added.
Since the Obama Administration’s likely intended for the settlement resolution to pass, Miller cited Obama’s personal ideological commitment to the Palestinian cause motivating him to abstain. “Frustration and real resentment that the Israelis weren’t listening combined with the fact that the administration was running out of time propelled them either to abstain or to vote in favor,” he explained.
The question looming over the debate is whether the Obama administration would have acted differently if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency?
“A lot of Democrats would like for him to veto. The party is in bad shape, not only did they lose the presidential election but they also lost… both houses of Congress,” Elliot Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jewish Insider. “They don’t need things that weaken the party further yet Obama is willing to see that happen. Had Clinton won, he would have had even less reason to be concerned about the condition of the Democratic Party,” Abrams added noting the numerous reports that the White House was willing to abstain on the UN resolution.
Schanzer believed that Clinton would have been unlikely to issue a public condemnation of the UN draft, in contrast to Trump. Rather, the former Secretary of State would have probably told Obama not to proceed with the abstention telling the White House: “You are going to tie my hands as the next president and make my life more difficult because it will appear as if I gave my blessing to this Security Council resolution,” Schanzer said.
Obama would have likely consulted with Clinton before making a decision, emphasized The Wilson Center’s Miller. Although he cautioned that it is difficult to predict, Clinton generally adopted a less hardline approach to settlements than Obama, which could have impacted her policy on this resolution, Miller said.
Lost in all of the media coverage about the role of Trump and Sisi in delaying the resolution was the Obama Administration’s apparent willingness to allow a resolution to pass that said that settlements have “no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation under international law.” (Generally, White House officials call settlements illegitimate). Miller suggested that reporters clarify the Obama Administration current position whether they believe Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem are in fact “illegal.”
With the resolution’s future hanging in the balance, Abrams emphasized that domestic pressure on the White House may be the only remaining factor that could influence the President given the Israelis longstanding opposition. “The only hope I think would be people whose opinions the President may value more, democrats above all tell him that this will hurt the party and hurt his own reputation,” Abrams noted.